Set-aside plan good idea

It will be interesting to see how Steubenville water Superintendent Jim Jenkins’ experiment works out. His approach to it gives him a good chance of succeeding.

Steubenville’s water system is a train wreck that occurred years ago. As we have pointed out, municipal officials in the past gambled that the treatment plant, pipelines and other facilities would hold up for decades without major spending for maintenance and upgrades.

No one with any experience in municipal utilities would have made that bet. After many years of neglect, the current city council has been forced to approve dramatic rate increases to keep the water flowing and meet state and federal requirements.

Jenkins cannot do anything about that — but he hopes he can save water customers a significant amount of money. In the process, he may get back on schedule with routine maintenance.

City council members heard his plan last week. It is quite simple: Jenkins wants to work within his existing budget to save $308,000 a year. That amount should cover routine water tank and reservoir maintenance.

His plan will require scrimping and saving on day-to-day water department expenditures. “I want to see what we can do without those funds,” he said of the $308,000 a year.

“We’ve got to start saving for those bigger projects,” Jenkins added.

Precisely. Jenkins is well aware that even if he can economize, one or two major waterline breaks could wipe out his set-aside money.

But the idea of putting the $308,000 aside up front — treating it as untouchable except in an emergency — is a big step toward success. It is an approach others in city government, and not just in Steubenville, may want to try.

No doubt some observers will wonder why that approach was not tried in the past. That is a legitimate question — but not grounds for criticizing Jenkins. He deserves credit for coming up with his new approach in an effort to save Steubenville residents some money while not ignoring routine maintenance needs.


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